The pandemic has greatly affected agricultural production and food systems. It has also emphasized food supply and its safety. Since hazards and contamination can occur in different stages along the production chain, it has become necessary to address food safety measures right at the farm level.
A virtual training-workshop on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for emerging agricultural commodities amid COVID-19 pandemic was held using the Zoom platform on 27-28 August 2020. It was organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) in collaboration with the Philippine Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI).
The training-workshop was driven by the need to help farmers to rethink and redesign their current farming methods and help them establish a set of practices in their farming operations for a more sustainable food system, enhanced farm productivity, and increased market competitiveness, thereby contributing to the overall local food security. An understanding of the approach, principles, and standards of GAP and benchmarking local GAP schemes against globally recognized guidelines are essential so that stakeholders, particularly smallholder farmers and farming families, are properly guided in implementing GAP standards in their respective farm production.
Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, emphasized in his welcome remarks that the current situation has indeed brought attention to food supply and safety as food plays a significant role in the health and wellbeing of consumers.
Dr. Gregorio added that as part of SEARCA's efforts to realize its mission, particularly under its 11th Five-Year Plan (FYP) focused on Accelerating Transformation Through Agricultural Innovation (ATTAIN), the training-workshop was an avenue to share knowledge among GAP practitioners and farmers on concrete innovative actions towards sustainable agricultural practices, increased productivity, and market competitiveness of key agricultural commodities, particularly considering the challenges posed by COVID-19.
Further, he reiterated that the training-workshop's learning outcome will lead to a "better, bigger, and smarter normal" that is highly relevant for the future of Southeast Asia.
"Now that the world must confront more complicated and fighting challenges, the more we recognized the need for a stronger cooperation with our stakeholders, and partners. And intensify the use of quality seed inputs and appropriate technologies. That is the way to go. If we are to boost our agricultural productivity and ensure food security for the continued survival of our communities and economies," Secretary William D. Dar of the Department of Agriculture (DA), represented by Dr. Leocadio Sebastian, Special Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Innovation-DA, emphasized in his keynote message.
Likewise, Secretary Dar said that "Indeed, we cannot do with our business as usual approach. We need to be more innovative and unified to limit COVID-19 adverse impact on food security, nutrition, and sustainable development."
Dr. Sebastian mentioned that it is in this context that we welcome the timely conduct of this training on GAP. The conduct of a training such as this one has become increasingly important, considering the global consciousness and the norm of consumers for quality, safety, and hygienic products specifically during health crisis such as the current pandemic. The topic on GAP has included the 11th FYP of SEARCA, which clearly supports DA's overall goal of ensuring that our beloved partners, and farming families will produce safe produce and sustain the national food security.
Further, he said "We hope that this activity can be included in the activities that SEARCA and DA will implement together. Hoping that this workshop will provide useful insights on how to improve farm operations from the application of GAP."
Experts on GAP composed of representatives from the DA, DA-Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), academe, and private sector presented their technical know-how. The two-day training-workshop was participated in by local government units, development partners, farmers, and farming families in the Philippines; individuals from other countries; and international organizations.
In the first session of the training workshop, Mr. Manuel M. Dimalalauan, Food Safety Focal of DA- ATI, discussed the significance of the different approaches and techniques of GAP in order to guide various food systems towards sustainable production of safe food and improve the market competitiveness of key agricultural commodities. He also presented the critical elements and the key concepts in the guiding principle of GAP and its relevance to farm management, food safety, environmental conservation, and quality management.
In his closing remarks at the end of the first session, Mr. Gerald Glenn Panganiban, Assistant Director, DA-BPI, acknowledged all the experts for sharing their knowledge about GAP. He also mentioned the challenges due to the pandemic and the realization of the importance of having food on the table, especially during the enhanced community quarantine period, which challenged the logistics of distribution and even the farm production. He also stated that BPI continually commits the support of GAP. He also wants to engage the public to learn more.
In the second session of the training-workshop, Mr. Samuel Fontanilla, Agriculturist II,DA-BPI, focused his discussion on the step-by-step adoption of GAP and its operationalization amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In his presentation, he expounded on the concept of GAP, and its principles, and techniques and how to minimize hazards and conduct of risk assessments.
Ms. Cherrie D. Atilano, President, CEO and Founding Farmer AGREA Philippines, explained that "Agriculture is not an option. It is a necessity." In her video presentation, she also mentioned that "Agriculture should not be that complicated so that our farmers can easily adopt technologies. We want to change their lives from being subsistence farmers to the farming entrepreneurs that they can be." Ms. Atilano introduced how simple farm practices can help improve the quality of farm produce. She is also working on how to introduce fair trading practices to these rural communities to allow them access to better prices. In this light, Ms. Atilano said she wants to change people's prejudice against farmers and make farming an attractive profession for the future generation.
Mr. Fabian Espiritu, owner of Farmtec Foods, Inc., presented the experience of Farmtec as a major producer of dehydrated food ingredients in the Philippines. The company has certifications on good manufacturing practice (GMP) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Philippines. He discussed how his company developed the technologies and how they broadened the market in the 30 years of the company's existence through the implementation of GAP. According to Mr. Espiritu, GAP is also essential at the farm level to lessen microbial hazards at the processing level, this is to prevent an increase in processing cost and losses incurred.
In his closing remarks at the end of the second session, Dr. Rico C. Ancog, SEARCA Operations Consultant for Emerging Innovation for Growth (EIG) and Associate Professor, School of Environmental Science and Management, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), introduced SEARCA's EIG Department (EIGD) and emphasized that through this department SEARCA aims to partner with more institutions, farmers, and farming families.
Dr. Ancog also stressed that through EIGD, SEARCA strives to develop farmer-centric programs that link to modern networks and innovative markets and thus invites everyone, specifically farmers and farming families, to work with SEARCA as it aims to create a farmer network.